When talking with colleagues these days it is common to hear people discussing the effectiveness of remote work, especially regarding consulting work. We hear partners and clients saying things like, “I just don’t think we can replicate the kind of interpersonal relationships we used to have virtually.” Yet, at the same time, we hear their employees expressing little desire ever to return to the office full-time, opting instead for fully remote or hybrid work arrangements. This dichotomy begs the question, “Which is better, in-person or remote?”
The Undeniable Benefits of In-Person Work
Employers that firmly believe in-person work is better tout a whole host of benefits centered around the kinds of relationships that come from physically working alongside coworkers. Tom Gimbel says in-person work encourages innovation, collaboration, and retention when he summarizes,
“When there's people in a conference room, they can see each other's eyes and get the feeling of the energy that that creates collaboration, and it sparks innovation. And it's a heck of a lot easier to leave a company when you don't go in every day and you don't have as many relationships, and that's what happens when you're working from home. And so, if companies can get people together, they're going to create more, and they're going to be happier and want to stay there longer.”
Proponents of in-person work point out that forging these same kinds of relationships between colleagues and among clients if far more difficult, if not impossible. However, that does not stop employees from increasingly making remote work a condition of their employment, with only 15% indicating that they would apply for a position that was fully on-site.
Making the Case for Working Remotely
Employees that were jarringly sent home suddenly in March of 2020 have already gotten over the hump of needing to hold themselves accountable for their work and learn how to get things done amid off-site distractions. These days employees are largely capable of managing themselves, their technology, and their workload no matter where they are. However, professional growth is not the only positive change to come out of remote work.
Employees have also flourished personally. Throughout this post-pandemic journey employees also traded in their daily commute and used that time to pursue their passions, learn new skills, and spend time with family. In short, the pandemic forced employees to spend more time on themselves and that shift in focus changed them – it changed all of us. And now, many people do not want to give that time back. The Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index describes it in this way:
“One thing is clear: We’re not the same people that went home to work in early 2020. The collective experience of the past two years has left a lasting imprint, fundamentally changing how we define the role of work in our lives. The data shows the Great Reshuffle is far from over. Employees everywhere are rethinking their ‘worth it’ equation and are voting with their feet. And as more people experience the upsides of flexible work, the more heavily it factors into the equation. For Gen Z and Millennials, there’s no going back. And with other generations not far behind, companies must meet employees where they are.”
In response, employers are feeling the pressure to allow employees to have this time so they can do their best work. Therefore, the best case to be made for remote work is greater employee satisfaction leading to better business outcomes.
Hybrid: The Perfect Compromise?
The reality is that managing employees (especially large teams of employees) tends to be more difficult when they are geographically dispersed across different locations and time zones. But if employees want to work remotely and are doing so effectively, management has little reason to require that they work any other way. In today’s tight labor market, giving employees what they want is a crucial step in holding onto key talent to stay competitive and grow despite market pressures. How can companies reconcile the desire to be in the office with the desire to work remotely? Hybrid work!
Most companies these days have either embraced a formal hybrid work approach or have extended an invitation for employees work in whatever capacity they feel is most conducive to doing their best work. Hybrid work combines the best of both worlds – the in-person element of coming together to collaborate and engage in relationship building with the remote aspect of allowing employees the freedom to maintain a suitable work-life balance.
No Right Answer
Ultimately, there is no singular “right” answer to the remote vs onsite question. But there is likely a “right” answer for your company. A Hubble article on the workplace strategies of today’s top companies explains,
“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the future of where we work. The pandemic has completely revolutionized the way we think about offices, remote working, and employees’ workplace needs—meaning there’s no longer a ‘standard’ way of working. As such, different companies have responded in different ways. From Amazon to Twitter, even the world’s most famous names are opting for very different post-pandemic workplace strategies. For some, the WFH experience has been so positive that they’ve now chosen to go fully remote. Others stand firm in their belief that going back to the office is the best option—and some have even done a U-turn.”
The nature of your work, your company culture, and even your employees themselves will determine which type of workforce setup is going to be best. Since 2020 different industries have responded in their own ways, creating various mores across business types. For instance, SaaS companies have largely remained fully remote in the time since the pandemic hit, leveraging their tools and tech-forward attitudes to give employees the freedom to work from wherever they would like long-term. Financial advisory companies, on the other hand, largely went back to fully in-person work as quickly as possible after pandemic restrictions were lifted. And yet, there are variations in workforce approaches even within industries because a company’s needs, and desires can vary from their competitors’ norms. For a company the decision is a highly individualized one, reflecting leadership’s attitude towards work, individual employees’ needs, and the tools and processes in place to conduct and manage work. In the end, the best approach to work is the approach that works for your company!
We provide fractional CFOs on-site or in the cloud to fit any workforce structure. So, whether you are looking for a consulting CFO to work on-site or remotely, we have you covered. Find out more about our CFO and controller services today!